Before The Vote
O'Malley tours KI waterfront before vote on development
(The Vote Was May 23rd)
This news is being sent 10:00 a.m. Tuesday May 22 - click to read
This is being sent at 4:15 p.m. Thursday May 17, and is the latest news we have:
Some good news and bad news . . .the good news is, the Governor, the Comptroller and the Treasurer (the State Board of Public Works) will all be coming this Friday to tour the Four Seasons site around noon. The Board of Public works is obviously concerned enough about the project and its potential environmental and public safety impacts, that they want to view the site for themselves. The Maryland Department of Environment (NOT Hovanian) will be conducting the on-site tour.
The "bad" (well, not so bad) news is this is considered a "fact finding site tour" and there is no time for a public meeting. HOWEVER if you can show up at 11:45 at the cul-de-sac at the end of Castle Marina Rd. to give the Board a show of strength that surely couldn’t hurt! Signs saying "Thank you BPW for listening to our concerns" or "Save Kent Island", "Save the Bay", "Save Our Wetlands", etc. would be great! We need to be mindful of the Board's time and be restrained and respectful (even if we'd rather yell and shout).
This is good news because it provides our elected officials and appointed MDE staff with an unbiased opportunity to look at this fragile location and draw their own conclusions. This is a very positive development and residents of Kent Island should be encouraged in the fact that the Governor and the Board is taking time and gathering facts in order to make a truly informed decision.
Continue to send those emails to the Board of Public Works and call Monday or Tuesday. Numbers and addresses below . Let them know that the impact of this project on Cox Creek, Macum Creek, the Chester River and the Bay is unacceptable and a bad idea for the State of Maryland.
Several News Stories Follow Below Email Addresses:
On Wednesday, May 9th, 2007 Four Seasons made a proposal to the Maryland Board of Public Works. The decision has been postponed until May 23rd. This board has the ability to stop the project. But they need to hear from people who care about the environment and about the many issues relating to such a dramatic amount of new housing within the critical areas. The BPW includes the Governor, the Comptroller and the Treasurer. Please call, write or email them today and tell them that the FOUR SEASONS project on Kent Island is a bad idea. Here are their phone numbers and emails...Please call or email today. Click Here To Send Email To All Six Listed Below
Many of you sent emails and made calls and are wanting to know about yesterday’s hearing - it appeared to be a good day for Kent Island. The Board (O’Malley, Franchot, Kopp) were very receptive and eager to hear about this project from all sides and spent several hours listening and questioning – no time limits were imposed. They were very concerned about traffic and the environment – and particularly that they had not been able to get any comment from the local County Commissioners. This is because of the DRRA Settlement Agreement that Cassell, Cupani, Niedomanski signed early in their term. Commissioner Ransom and Koval would not sign – but were bound, as commissioners not to discuss the project.
In addition, WBAL Channel 11 was taping the meeting. More later. The same WBAL that broke the ex-QAC Commissioner Ben Cassell story
Mum's the word on big
Kent Island project Despite Gansler ruling, county officials fear legal
action for speaking against development
When the state Board of Public Works considers a wetlands permit today for the largest development ever proposed for Kent Island, board members are unlikely to hear anything negative about the 1,350-unit project -- at least from local elected officials, who fear they'll wind up in court for speaking out.
That's in spite of a nonbinding legal opinion, released yesterday by Attorney General Douglas Gansler, which found that a 2003 settlement forbidding Queen Anne's County Commissioners from criticizing the project doesn't apply to testimony before state agencies.
The ban on criticizing the Four Season development, proposed by New Jersey-based K. Hovnanian Cos., applies only to the county board acting as a government body, the opinion says. But the settlement does not prevent individual commissioners from speaking, the opinion states.
Still, county officials say they worry that a 4-year-old legal settlement signed by a previous board prevents them from speaking freely.
"We are absolutely under threat of litigation, effectively gagged," Eric S. Wargotz, the county board's president, said yesterday. "We continue to be advised by our own attorney that the safest course is not to testify or take a position."
State Comptroller Peter Franchot, who sits on the public works board with Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp and Gov. Martin O'Malley, urged Queen Anne's officials this week to attend today's board meeting.
The county agreement with the developer "in no way included state-level proceedings and does not restrict any individual commissioner from testifying," Franchot wrote in a letter to Wargotz.
On May 9, the public works board postponed a vote on a state wetlands permit that would allow construction of a bridge, a storm water management system and other infrastructure necessary for the development.
Key among four findings in the attorney general's opinion is that any court settlement applies only to the Board of County Commissioners as a government entity.
But the opinion ends with a caveat, cautioning that even if county officials speak out as individuals, the developer could contest the issue in circuit court or, perhaps ultimately, "an appellate court would determine the meaning of the Settlement Agreement."
John H. Zink III, an attorney for K. Havnanian, did not return phone calls yesterday.
Opponents say the project, which would be marketed as an "active seniors" over-55 community, would increase pollution in the Chester River and two small creeks. The site, on the island's eastern shore, is located about a mile off U.S. 50.
Board of Public Works members, including O'Malley, toured the still-rural site for nearly two hours Friday. Trailing were a contingent of reporters and photographers, as well as sign-carrying supporters and opponents of the project that has caused turmoil on Kent Island for nearly a decade.
County officials say they have not talked about their options, once the public works board approves or defeats the wetlands permit.
"If the permit is approved, then I guess everything moves along," said County Commissioner Carol R. Fordonski. "We have not even had time to review it. For the moment, it's the state's issue."
Four Seasons gag order
shot down by AG
The Office of the Maryland Attorney General has found a 2003 gag order preventing Queen Anne's County Commissioners from speaking out on a controversial Kent Island development does not apply at the state level.
A letter was sent yesterday from John B. Howard, Jr., the deputy attorney general, and Robert N. McDonald, the chief counsel on opinions and advice, to Sheila McDonald, the executive secretary of the Board of Public Works. It says under state law, the 2003 settlement agreement is legal because the commissioners did not give up their powers to sever the contract if it violated the public safety, health or welfare.
However, the gag order was construed without the consent of the state government.
Therefore, the county commissioners are not sealed into supporting the wetlands permit the Board of Public Works will decide on tomorrow. That also opens the door for commissioners to testify at tomorrow's hearing.
"(I)t appears difficult to argue that the Four Seasons DRRA could commit the Board of County Commissioners to a particular position on a State wetlands license," the letter states, "particularly when the requirements for such a license were not frozen or otherwise covered by the DRRA."
Previously, John Zink, an attorney representing K. Hovnanian Cos., the Four Seasons developer, sent a letter to the commissioners requesting them to publicly state they are not against the wetlands permit.
Yesterday's letter also says the prohibition would apply only to the commissioners acting as a government entity and not as individuals.
But a caveat is included - the attorney general's opinion is not binding and could be reversed if the developer's counsel takes a commissioner's objection to court.
"If a Commissioner were to speak, and if the developer were to carry through on that threat, the Circuit Court, and perhaps ultimately an appellate court, would determine the meaning of the Settlement agreement," the letter states.
In addition, the Maryland Department of the Environment is looking more deeply into the potential impacts of the Four Seasons development on Kent Island.
Even though department officials have said the 1,350-home project being developed by K. Hovnanian Cos. will meet a requirement of reducing phosphorus runoff by 10 percent, they're now looking into wider environmental concerns, such as how more impervious surface and vehicle emissions will affect the surrounding wetlands.
Questions also linger over whether the development - as opposed to the land's current farm use - will help the health of the Chesapeake Bay. The information will be ready by tomorrow, when the Board of Public Works is scheduled to vote on a wetlands permit for Four Seasons, said Secretary of the Environment Shari T. Wilson.
"We haven't reached a recommendation yet," she said.
Plans for Four Seasons, an "active adult" community for people 55 and older, would take up about 350 acres of the Chesapeake Bay's Critical Area.
Critical areas include the land within 1,000 feet of a shoreline, and the project borders three bodies of water: the Chester River, Cox Creek and Macum Creek.
The upcoming vote by the board, which is made up of Gov. Martin O'Malley, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp, has revived grass-roots opposition based around potentially negative environmental effects.
Other questions have been raised about the validity of a settlement agreement that prevents the Queen Anne's County Commissioners from voicing opposition to the project. The legal order is being reviewed by the state Attorney General's Office.
On May 9, the board considered the wetlands permit, which would allow the construction of a pile-supported bridge, a stormwater management system with 18 discharges into tidal waters, water and sewer lines, and a community pier. It put off a decision to get more information. Members toured the site last week.
"I'm not sure that we've accurately been able to pin the tail on that donkey," Mr. O'Malley said after seeing the site. "The fact that other (regulatory) hurdles have been crossed does not mean that we shouldn't do our duty and decide this case in a considerate and thoughtful way."
Environmental restrictions have been placed on the development, Maryland Critical Area Commission officials said. The majority of buildings will have to be 300 feet from the shoreline and a 2-acre tidal pond will be surrounded by a 150-foot forested buffer, said Ren Serey, the commission's executive director.
Published May 22, 2007, The
Capital, Annapolis, Md.
Throwing down the gauntlet.
Corporate arrogance in America has been so pervasive during the past decade I thought I’d seen the worst of it, but K. Hovnanian proved me wrong. And apparently I’m not alone.
"I didn't think it could get any worse, but it did,” said State Comptroller Peter Franchot after K. Hovnanian responded to his characterization of a 2003 DRRA settlement with the New Jersey developer as a "gag order against public officials” by writing a letter to current county commissioners (none of whom signed the agreement) demanding that they state they are not opposed to the permit in writing.
In the 18th century this would be equivalent to peeling off a glove and slapping your opponent in the face with it.
It is arrogance raised to a frightening level. And a perfect example of how corporate ethics have given way to a new found sense of power that has infused their executives with a sense of their own invincibility.
Franchot responded in a letter sent Monday to Eric Wargotz, President of the Q.A. County Commissioners. He wrote:
"You were duly elected by the people of Queen Anne's County to represent them and to advocate for them and I urge you to do so. Whether you support this project or not, the Board of Public Works deserves to hear from you as it deliberates this important growth and development issue."
I’m beginning to love this guy. Hovnanian threw the gauntlet down. Franchot’s response was correct and courageous. I sincerely hope that, legal repercussions aside, the commissioner’s follow his lead. You can’t put a price on personal dignity and political courage.
With all this in mind I had to laugh out loud (after I hawked up a hair ball the size of a beach ball) when I read what a spokesperson for a Queen Anne’s business organization was quoted saying about billion-dollar developer K. Hovnanian and the Four Seasons project.
“People have to realize they (K. Hovnanian) really want to be part of our community... Why are we turning our backs when what we really need to do is embrace them?”
Embrace them? Right! And that Grizzly Bear you meet in the woods just wants a hug. And Osama bin Laden just wants to be your buddy, hang out, and have a few laughs over a beer.
Another representative of the business community talking about Four Seasons said “...the impact on the economy will be astounding.”
But just who’s economy is he talking about? I think I know the answer to that, and I be very surprised if the impact of Four Seasons on Bill Evan’s economy will be astounding!
Right now, according to the news, the economy is great. But all I see around me are friends struggling to keep up with rising prices and every kind of fee imaginable buried in the small print of the invoices we get from government and the utilities.
So the only conclusion I can come to is that while the impact on K. Hovnanian’s economy will indeed be astounding, the impact on Kent Islander’s quality of life and our remaining natural resources will be catastrophic. But hey, that’s a small price to pay because, after all, they just want to be part of our community!
A very, very large, traffic clogging, part of our community.
Queen Anne's commissioners
invited to testify
Originally published May 22, 2007
State Comptroller Peter Franchot has invited the Queen Anne's County commissioners to address tomorrow's Board of Public Works meeting on a proposed Four Seasons development in the county.
The commissioners have effectively been under a gag order that resulted from a 2003 settlement between a previous Board of County Commissioners and the developer. Franchot and Gov. Martin O'Malley toured the development site on Kent Island on Friday after expressing concerns that the commissioners could not express their views.
Franchot reiterated that view in a letter yesterday to Eric Wargotz, president of the county commissioners.
"You were duly elected by the people of Queen Anne's County to represent them and to advocate for them and I urge you to do so," Franchot wrote. "Whether you support this project or not, the Board of Public Works deserves to hear from you as it deliberates this important growth and development issue."
A developer, K. Hovnanian Cos., wants to build 1,300 homes on land designated as a Chesapeake Bay "critical area." The Board of Public Works - made up of O'Malley, Franchot and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp - must approve a routine wetlands license for the project to proceed.
Kent Island project visited
CHESTER - Worried about environmental damage from a proposed 1,350-unit community here on heavily developed Kent Island, the state's Board of Public Works crossed the Bay Bridge yesterday for a firsthand look.
The three-member board, which delayed a May 9 vote on a routine wetlands permit to provide time to study the plan, was greeted yesterday by sign-waving opponents and supporters - residents who have clashed over the planned Four Seasons project for nearly a decade.
The panel, made up of Gov. Martin O'Malley, Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp and Comptroller Peter Franchot, spent about two hours touring the sprawling 350-acre farm with spectacular waterfront views, located just a mile from busy U.S. 50. They were trailed by a caravan packed with reporters, photographers, and state and local officials, along with local supporters of the project. Many opponents walked onto the property.
"This is helpful on such an important decision that we get here to see it in context," O'Malley said. "This the largest redevelopment with the highest density proposed in a critical area."
Critics say the development could damage two creeks and the Chester River, but the first phase has already been approved by the state Critical Area Commission and the entire site is designated as a growth area for Queen Anne's County.
Developers hope to turn the property into an over-55 seniors community, the largest project ever proposed for Kent Island.
The three board members said they expect to vote on the wetlands permit Wednesday in what could be the final step in an eight-year approval process for the developer, the New Jersey-based K. Hovnanian Cos. - or a sticking point that could further delay the Four Seasons development.
Mark D. Steman, a Hovnanian division vice president, refused to speculate on how the company would proceed if the public works panel rejects the wetlands permit next week.
"We've done everything that was required, jumped through all the hoops in the approval process," Steman said. "There's no legal basis to hold us up. The state issues these permits all the time."
O'Malley said the public works board is charged with making its own decision, whether or not the company has met other approval criteria.
"The fact that other hurdles have been crossed doesn't mean we shouldn't fulfill our responsibility and make a decision as a board. There may be a lot of lessons we can learn in this case. It's a real world situation," the governor said.
Franchot continued to spar with the company's lawyers over a 2003 legal settlement signed by a previous Board of County Commissioners that blocks the current five-member board from commenting on the Four Seasons project.
The previous board, which struck the agreement, had a 4-1 Republican majority. But last November's election brought four Democrats to office, leaving just one Republican.
At the May 9 public works meeting, Franchot, a Democrat, complained that local officials were unwilling to speak for fear of legal action by Hovnanian.
In a letter yesterday to the company's attorney, John H. Zink III, Franchot urged that "you release the Queen Anne's County Commissioners from these verbal shackles" to allow them to testify at Wednesday's board meeting.
"Clearly, this is a form of gag order," Franchot said. "If it's not a gag order, it's as close to one as I've ever seen. That's not acceptable."
In the meantime, the state attorney general's office is researching a series of questions about the settlement, as well as the board's authority.
Most of the development, a community that is aimed at baby boomers, would be built in the state's critical area, where development is restricted within 1,000 feet of the Chesapeake and its tributaries.
The wetlands permit sought from the Board of Public Works by Hovnanian is required before the company can build a small bridge and create a stormwater management system, along with water and sewer service and a community pier.
"Nobody's saying the company pulled a fast one; everything has gone through the process," said Joseph Shapiro, a spokesman for Franchot. "It reflects a new focus on the environment."
The developer says state-of-the-art storm management will actually improve water quality when compared with runoff from farm fields, but opponents don't believe it.
"This is a project that's going to add to our congestion, which is already out of control," said Rich Altman, executive director of the Queen Anne's Conservation Association. "It would add 3,000 or more people. This is a fragile ecosystem we need to protect."
CHESTER, Md. -- The saga of Four Seasons at Kent Island has enough drama for a page-turning novel, with a deep-pocketed developer, political knife fights and local residents fearing that a delicate ecosystem is about to be turned into sprawling condominiums and houses.
In office just four months, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) is wading into an eight-year battle over 1,350 homes proposed on Maryland's Eastern Shore that some local advocates are calling a test of his commitment to the environment.
K. Hovnanian, a national builder that has set its sights on the largest island in the Chesapeake Bay, is seeking a state wetlands permit to build a pier, bridge, clubhouse and utility lines at the edge of the homes. Water surrounds the project on three sides. The largest swath of environmentally sensitive land, just east of the Bay Bridge, would be developed.
O'Malley has signed legislation requiring carmakers to reduce emissions and pledged to restore land preservation money diverted by his predecessor. The state agreed last month to buy 728 acres of protected land, also on the Eastern Shore, to scale back a golf resort planned on the Little Blackwater River.
But Four Seasons at Kent Island has proved a more complicated political challenge. Environment Secretary Shari T. Wilson said Kent Island "would not be the place where you would have development going" to meet the region's goals of restoring the bay. But her office says Hovnanian has followed all of the rules about development on the shoreline. A wetlands permit would be the final hurdle before construction could start.
Officials with the New Jersey-based developer, the Washington region's second-largest residential builder, say their community for adults older than 55 will bring jobs and tax revenue to an area brimming with homes. "We've jumped every hoop and met every environmental requirement," Mark Stemen, president of Hovnanian's active-adult division, said yesterday. "There's no legal basis to deny it."
The dispute has consumed Queen Anne's County politics with lawsuits and countersuits, gag orders, mistakes by local planners and recriminations from voters, who in two elections tossed out a majority of the members of the board of commissioners who supported the project.
Its fate is in the hands of O'Malley and the state's comptroller and treasurer, who make up the state's Board of Public Works. The board has scheduled a vote on the permit for Wednesday.
"It's the rights of property owners versus government's rights to address issues that arise from how people use their property," said Frank M. Kratovil Jr., the state's attorney for the county, who is not involved officially in the case. "The question is going to be: Where does the buck stop?"
Flooding and runoff from the low-lying 560-acre corn farm Hovnanian bought in 1999 have polluted the bay for decades. But development is among the worst culprits ailing North America's largest estuary, and environmental groups and some residents are alarmed, fearing that Hovnanian's development along five miles of shoreline would worsen it.
"If he votes in favor of this, the governor will have adopted Four Seasons," said Mike Koval, a former member of the Queen Anne's board who opposes the project. The governor has not signaled how he will vote.
The controversy prompted an unusual visit to the site yesterday by O'Malley, Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp (D) after a hearing on the wetlands permit two weeks ago that pitted Hovnanian officials against Kent Island activists for four hours. The three got a primer in plats and maps, phosphorus and nitrogen loads, and storm water from state environmental officials as Hovnanian representatives, company lobbyists and opponents looked on.
O'Malley said after the tour that the board must weigh the developer's due diligence against the state's duty to do "what is in the public interest." He said the case could prompt his administration to review long-standing policies about development on environmentally sensitive land. "There may well be a lot of important lessons to learn from this." Behind him, opponents held signs that read "Governor O'Malley, Please Save our Bay. Stop 4 Seasons."
The planned development would mix five-story condominium towers and single-family homes at the gateway to the Eastern Shore, a waterman's paradise quickly becoming a distant suburb of Washington and Baltimore. Almost 90 percent of the property, 372 acres, lies in what the state calls a "critical area" 1,000 feet or less from the shoreline. Under a 23-year-old law, local governments can set aside some of their sensitive land for development provided builders construct buffers and manage storm water and other systems to limit runoff into the bay.
The state approved the designation for Queen Anne's in 2000. Around then, with state approval, local officials designated the Hovnanian property an area where development could be concentrated.
"Why was this declared a growth area?" asked Jay Falstad, a farmer and member of the Queen Anne's Conservation Association. "A majority of the public is fiercely opposed to this."
Several local officials have lost their seats over Four Seasons, which has generated numerous lawsuits from opponents. One is on appeal after a Circuit Court judge found that county maps of the protected land were inaccurate and carelessly drawn and ordered them redrawn.
The local board cannot weigh in on the project Wednesday. Hovnanian sued the county for stalling the project years ago, and a 2003 settlement restricts officials from making negative comments about the project.
"We discovered they were all bullied and intimidated into silence," said Franchot, who first flagged Four Seasons to the Board of Public Works as a project needing scrutiny.
O'Malley tours KI waterfront before vote on development
Board will decide on wetlands permit for 1,350 units
By LIAM FARRELL Staff Writer, The Capital
A strong wind blew through a sea of yellow and green grass on Kent Island yesterday, and just over a line of trees sailboats were visible passing by on the Chester River.
Walking down an unpaved road, three of the state's most high-profile officials approached a small white farmhouse with porches and a view of the water.
It is up to those three - Gov. Martin O'Malley, Comptroller Peter Franchot, and Treasurer Nancy Kopp - how a 1,350 unit project moves forward on the pastoral property.
The Board of Public Works visited the site of the controversial Four Seasons project to prepare for a vote on a wetlands permit on May 23.
Environmental concerns have coupled with the conspicuous silence of the Queen Anne's County Commissioners, who have been advised by legal staff that a 2003 settlement agreement with K. Hovnanian Cos. prohibits them from speaking out on the project.
That agreement is currently being investigated by the Office of the Maryland Attorney General.
"It's a beautiful piece of land," said Eric Wargotz, the president of the county commissioners. "I can't say much more than that."
What has been described by Mr. Franchot as a "gag order" against public officials has gone into even more troubling territory, the comptroller said.
Following the board's May 9 meeting on Four Seasons, where a decision was delayed to gather more information, an attorney representing the developer mailed a letter requesting the commissioners to show they are not in opposition to the permit.
"I didn't think it could get any worse," Mr. Franchot said before the tour, "but it did."
The board's visit comes before a May 23 meeting to decide the fate of a wetlands permit that would allow the construction of a pile-supported bridge, a stormwater management system with 18 discharges into tidal waters, water and sewer lines, and a community pier.
Although attorneys for the project have qualified the permit as routine, the pending vote has reignited concerns that the amount of development will negatively impact surrounding bodies of water.
When fully built, Four Seasons
would envelop about 350 acres of the Chesapeake Bay's Critical Area.
As the board was taken through the site by Secretary of the Environment Shari T. Wilson, proponents on both sides of the issue jockeyed to get in front of Mr. O'Malley and the cameras, holding signs that said "Save the Bay" or "We Support Four Seasons."
"You can look at plats and you can look at maps but it's helpful for us on such an important decision to get the context, to understand the site, to be able to look at the pros and cons of this," Mr. O'Malley said.
The interest from the board is a great sign, said Tony Porchaska of the Chester River Association. By coming to the site, the officials have the chance to see up close the area the project will damage, he said.
"It really goes to show they want to find out all the details and facts," Mr. Porchaska said. "A project of this size definitely will have negative or adverse (environmental) impacts."
Others were hoping for a different outcome.
With advances in technology to limit pollution, such as water filters, the environmental impact will be much less than opponents believe, said Robert Dean, who owns a business in Stevensville. In addition, new homes mean more business and economic growth, he said, and that will help both his sign store and the community at large. "Development near the water can be done responsibly," Mr. Dean said. "Growth is good."
Ultimately, the site for the project has been outlined for development on the county's comprehensive plans and is surrounded by about 2,000 homes, said Joseph Stevens, an attorney for K. Hovnanian.
The project is following the rules, he said. "This has been designated for growth for many years," Mr. Stevens said.
The 2003 settlement states in part that the commissioners "agree that they shall not directly or indirectly oppose or interfere with any approvals for the development of Four Seasons in accordance with (a development rules and regulation agreement)."
On May 15, John Zink, an attorney for the developer, sent a letter asking the commissioners to explicitly say they are not against the permit.
"Because there is some question about the County's position on the wetlands permit, we request the County Commissioners comply with the Settlement Agreement and advise the Maryland Board of Public Works, in writing, that the County confirms its position and does not oppose approval of the wetlands permit," the document states.
The letter was simply part of the effort to keep all parties in line with the 2003 agreement, Mr. Stevens said.
"It's our position we were only asking them to do something that's in conformance (with the settlement)," he said.
Mr. O'Malley acknowledged he has never heard of such an agreement, but he declined to elaborate on whether it is appropriate.
"I'll leave that to the lawyers to work out," he said. "I'm just trying to do my piece of this job on the merits (of the project) and the Attorney General is probably the better person to opine on the legality and the merits of a settlement agreement that gags future boards."
Mr. Franchot has been the most vocal opponent of the agreement.
Previously he sent letters to both county and developer attorneys asking the "gag order" be removed, and yesterday he sent another letter to Mr. Zink requesting the county commissioners' opinion at the May 23 meeting.
"Your continued legal intimidation of the Commissioners threatens the integrity and fairness of this process and I would urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to allow all points of view to be heard on this important matter."
The comptroller continued his strong words yesterday.
"I think that's unacceptable and I hope that (the commissioners) can come next Wednesday and speak to us," Mr. Franchot said. "We're just out here to find facts and it's very hard to find facts if you can only hear from one side."
Published May 19, 2007, The
Capital, Annapolis, Md.
Queen Anne's controversy
draws in state's heavy hitters
Gov. Martin O'Malley and the rest of the Board of Public Works will visit a controversial development site on Kent Island today as the Attorney General's Office researches the legality of an agreement that's prohibiting Queen Anne's County Commissioners from speaking against the project.
Mr. O'Malley will be joined by Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp on a tour of the 1,350-unit Four Seasons development.
The tour "shows the depth of concern" from the board, Mr. Franchot said.
"The Chesapeake Bay is under a lot of stress," he said. "It is a rare convergence of a major environmental concern with the local officials in effect having duct tape wrapped around their heads."
Four Seasons, which is being developed by K. Hovnanian Cos., has been subjected to several lawsuits and targeted by a grassroots movement as an environmental disaster. Plans for the development would consume about 350 acres of the Chesapeake Bay's Critical Area.
Critical areas include the land within 1,000 feet of a shoreline, and the project borders three bodies of water: the Chester River, Cox Creek and Macum Creek. Almost 5 miles of buffers will be used to protect the water and 40 percent of the site will remain as open and green space, according to the developer.
The board's visit precedes a meeting on Wednesday to decide the fate of a wetlands permit to allow the construction of a pile-supported bridge, a stormwater management system with 18 discharges into tidal waters, water and sewer lines, and a community pier.
Although the permit was already considered on May 9, the board put off a vote because its members thought too many questions were left unanswered.
The planned tour indicates a true interest in the impact such a large amount of building will have on the environment, said Jay Falstad, a representative of the Chester River Association and an advocate against Four Seasons.
"I am delighted that the governor is carefully considering this project and the potential environmental and public safety issues," Mr. Falstad said.
"It's good that he is taking such an interest in the health of the bay and the Chester River."
Nancy Slepicka, an attorney for K. Hovnanian, couldn't be reached for comment.
The Board of Public Works has requested the advice of the Attorney General's Office on a divisive 2003 settlement agreement between the developer and county commissioners, according to Raquel Guillory, a spokesman.
The primary issue is a provision that prohibits the county commissioners from opposing the project unless the developer violates regulations or harms the general welfare.
A provision of that settlement says "the commissioners acknowledge and agree that they shall not directly or indirectly oppose or interfere with any approvals for the development of Four Seasons in accordance with (a development rules and regulations agreement)," said Patrick Thompson, the county's attorney.
During the May 9 board meeting, John Zink, an attorney for K. Hovnanian, said any county commissioner speaking against the wetlands permit would be in violation of that agreement.
Although no date is set for the investigation's completion, the pact is being researched now, Ms. Guillory said.
"It seems that it is not something that happens frequently (in Maryland)," she said.
Last week, Mr. Franchot sent letters to Ms. Slepicka and Mr. Thompson asking that the commissioners be released from the "unfathomable gag order" so they can express their views.
"It is always disturbing to me to read about how somewhere in the world the right to free speech and the right to express oneself are being hampered in some way," the comptroller's letters say. "However, when I witness firsthand those basic rights being ripped away from community leaders here in Maryland, quite frankly, it utterly disgusts me."
Mr. Thompson declined to comment on the chances of the agreement being lifted.
Although the developer sent a five-page response to Mr. Franchot, the chances of the order being stricken appear slim, the comptroller said.
"It appears from their response that the intimidation and gagging of the local officials continues," he said, "as extraordinary as that is."
Commissioner Gene Ransom III, D-Grasonville, refused to sign the agreement in 2003 and has voted against approving Four Seasons every step of the way.
Under the advice of the county's attorney, however, he said he can't comment on the project.
"It is not a topic I can talk freely about," he said. "I'm being very cautious about what I say."
Published May 18, 2007, The Capital, Annapolis, Md. Copyright © The Capital, Annapolis, Md
Editorial – Baltimore Sun
Lest there be any question about why it's so difficult to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, consider the sordid saga of the Four Seasons development slated for the fragile shores of Kent Island.
Controversial from the start, the project found favor with pro-growth Queen Anne's County commissioners who were ousted in 2002 by outraged voters but signed the deal just before leaving office. Their replacements tried to void the approval but were sued by the developer, lost in court and agreed to drop their opposition to avoid a threatened $3 million in legal penalties.
Now, as a third batch of commissioners watches the developer move through the final steps required before the 1,300-home retirement resort arises from farmland, the local officials feel compelled to hold their tongues. Most, if not all, have privately indicated they oppose the project, but they have been threatened with further legal action by the developer if they say so publicly.
This is outrageous, undemocratic and probably unconstitutional. Public officials, none of whom signed the 2003 settlement, can't be silenced in their duty to represent the interests of their constituents. Not in this country.
The state Board of Public Works was so alarmed last week at what Comptroller Peter Franchot called "too much legal intimidation of the local officials" that it delayed at least until next month a decision on whether to grant a wetlands permit for the project.
The interlude should give state leaders a chance to hear from the commissioners -- Mr. Franchot has already appealed to developers to lift their gag order -- as well as to consider the larger issues at stake. A project that state Environment Secretary Shari T. Wilson dubbed utterly wrong for this property -- not least because it's almost certain to flood during heavy storms -- has gotten as far as it has by a combination of sweet talk and bullying. Gov. Martin O'Malley and the rest of the Board of Public Works should send Four Seasons back to the county for a fresh review.
Two major threats to the bay are development and agricultural runoff. Four Seasons' application for a wetlands permit was based on the claim that the development will send 10 percent less nitrogen into the bay than farm fertilizer. But it ignores the huge new burden of water and sewer services, the added highway congestion and air pollution, and the vast uptick in impervious surfaces that new growth guidelines discourage.
An attorney for the developers argued that granting wetlands permits is a routine matter that should go through because they almost always do. That's part of why the bay is dying. There will be no saving it if bullies are allowed to prevail.
KIDL Web Guys says... please call or write to Mr. Gansler, the Attorney General about lifting the QAC Commissioners Gag Order! (410) 576-6300 or 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free in Maryland TDD: (410) 576-6372 E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
News Article – Star Democrat
The board, made up of Gov. Martin O’Malley, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, heard two hours of testimony on the project during the May 9 meeting, but they didn’t hear from the people they most wanted to talk to — the Queen Anne’s County commissioners.
“How do you ever protect the Chesapeake Bay if you’re going to allow this kind of development in the critical area? It’s hard to believe local officials approved this development,” Franchot said in an interview Thursday. “I think the Board of Public Works is going to shift direction and really focus on saving the Bay, and, hopefully, the message will get down to the local jurisdictions that this kind of development is just killing the Bay.”
The company argued wetlands permits are usually granted without any questions, but the state has a new Board of Public Works, Franchot said, adding, “We are in support of the Chesapeake Bay, not just rhetorically, but substantively.”
The environmental issue was just one red flag for the board.
Franchot called the commissioners not being able to speak “an outrageous situation.” He said he got a “full-court” briefing from K. Hovnanian on the project before the hearing; the presentation was very professional and in-depth, with lawyers and lobbyists and specifics. But during the hearing, the county officials were “apparently not even allowed in the room.”
“The fact that the commissioners are a) unable to come and communicate their concerns and b) feel they themselves are going to be sued is wrong. It’s offensive to the process, and it’s unfair,” Franchot said.
John Zink, attorney for the developer, said, “There isn’t a gag order.” He called the term “one of those emotion-laden words,” adding “it’s not quite applicable.”
The Four Seasons project is a planned age-restricted community for active adults, 55 and older, off Castle Marina Road on Kent Island. It borders Cox Creek, Macum Creek and the Chester River, all which flow into the Chesapeake Bay. The Critical Area Commission approved growth allocation for the project in 2001. The county and K. Hovnanian signed a Developer’s Rights and Responsibilities Agreement for the project in 2002. K. Hovnanian sued the county for breach of contract in 2003.
As part of the settlement agreement for that lawsuit, the county agreed it “would support our applications for approval before the Maryland Department of Environment, provided we were developing in accordance with DRRA,” Zink said.
In the settlement, signed Oct. 20, 2003, the commissioners agreed “they shall not directly or indirectly oppose or interfere with any approvals for the development of Four Seasons.”
Zink said he heard prior to the hearing a county commissioner was talking to the Board of Public Works staff opposing K. Hovnanian’s permit, so he contacted county attorney Patrick E. Thompson.
Thompson sent a letter back, saying the county intended to comply with the agreement and any contact with the Board of Public Works was not authorized, Zink said, adding he was guessing Thompson advised the commissioners to let the DRRA stand on its own.
That guess was confirmed by Commission President Eric Wargotz Thursday afternoon. Wargotz said he was not at the hearing.
“You really can’t talk about these things. We’ve been advised not to comment one way or the other on it,” Wargotz said, adding he doesn’t want to expose the county to any more lawsuits.
“It’s in the courts and before the Board of Public Works,” he said. “The county is done with it (the project) in terms of phase one, in terms of decision making.”
“We’re gagged,” said Commissioner Gene Ransom. “Based on threats from K. Hovnanian and advice from our attorney, we can’t discuss this matter.”
Former County Commissioner Mike Koval did speak before the board May 9.
“I said the citizens don’t want this project. So, I asked why were they going to approve a license for a project the majority of citizens don’t want,” Koval said. Citing his concern for the Bay, Koval took with him pictures of the nearby Gibson’s Grant housing project showing muddy storm water being pumped into Macum Creek. “I told them, look at this mess. Somebody’s not doing their job here.”
Overall, Koval said he was impressed with the state board. “They interacted. They asked about the gag order. It was not a typical hearing where everyone sits there like stuffed shirts,” he said. “They took testimony from everybody.”
Kent Island Defense League President Winn Krozack said the meeting was “colorful,” “very encouraging” and “actually wonderful.”
“I thought it was very good for Kent Island, at least from our point of view,” Krozack said. He was impressed by the board members’ concern for the environment and their interest in knowing what the citizens want.
“The board’s concerns reaffirm what we’ve been saying all along. It’s too much in the wrong spot. It isn’t that we don’t want anything there, but that kind of intensity there on those three bodies of water and the tidal pond? Before we even got to argue it, O’Malley said, ‘aren’t we trying to save the Bay?’” Krozack said.
He said he shared with the board the results of a traffic study KIDL commissioned by Salisbury University Professor Michael Scott showing the gridlock that would result from the development.
“I know there are some good points to it, but it’s not the right project in that area with that kind of intensity,” Krozack said. “It’s nice to know you can make a difference.”
Local environmental advocate Jack Broderick, also president of the Kent Island Civic Confederation, said he found the board’s concerns “quite refreshing.”
“It does appear that the Board of Public Works wants to step back and give this thing maybe a little different look than it’s gotten in the past. They appear to be asking the same questions many of us citizens have been asking for some time,” Broderick said. “The more questions they raised, the more questions they had.”
During the hearing, K. Hovnanian tried to downplay the “gag order,” Broderick said, “but it certainly amounts to that if the commissioners are not able to voice any opposition.” He said he shared their sense of “outrage and frustration.”
K. Hovnanian representatives got up and said all three waterways will be healthier after Four Seasons is built, Broderick said.
“To me that just defies understanding and logic. If that’s the case and we’re concerned about the health of the Bay, why not build high density developments all up and down the Bay and call it Chesapeake Metropolis,” he said.
“I urged them, on the basis
of public health, safety and welfare, not to grant this permit,” Broderick
“As you can see from the state recommendations, the application has complied with MDE requirements and recommendations,” said Joe Stevens, another attorney for the developer.
If the wetlands license is denied, the engineers would have to go back and evaluate design alternatives, he said. The wetlands permit would allow K. Hovnanian to build a bridge, a community pier and a storm water management system and install water and sewer lines.
“K. Hovnanian and the environmental consultants have made every effort to avoid, minimize and reduce any wetland impacts,” Stevens said. “There is a possibility that any redesign would initiate another review process and further delay the project.”
Franchot said, “I don’t know where this will all lead. The fact the development is in a critical area, right on shore, and the gag order pose serious questions about whether the wetlands permit should be approved.”
He said Kopp planned to request an opinion from the attorney general as to whether that clause of the settlement agreement is even legal.
Thursday, Franchot sent letters to attorneys for both K. Hovnanian and the county expressing his concerns about the project’s effect on the Bay and his disgust and outrage over the commissioners being denied free speech.
He concluded his letters with a request for the May 23 meeting: “I expect the Queen Anne’s County Commissioners who wish to speak on this matter will be allowed to do so — even if they speak in opposition to the permit or the project.”
Both Wargotz and Ransom said
they would like to speak at the next meeting if it can be worked out.
Gag order aside, “the main issue is the Bay is dying,” Franchot said. “Politicians like to say we’re making progress, but we’re not. We’re going backwards. Dead zones are getting bigger, not smaller. That’s a tragedy.
“We know that development, even environmentally done, on the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries and bad agricultural practices — those are the two things that are killing the Bay. Both those we can change. But when we change, there are cries of protest, particularly from developers and farmers who are contributing to the Bay’s demise. If we’re ever going to turn the Bay around we have to start making tough decisions.
“We probably have 10 years to turn it around. We’re going to have to learn how to say no.”
IF THE state Board of Public Works - Gov. Martin O'Malley, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp - balked when asked for a wetlands permit for a huge development on Kent Island, one can't blame the board members. How often have they been told that the county officials most directly involved can't talk to them?
In 2003, in a settlement of litigation over the 1,350-unit Four Seasons development, the Queen Anne's County commissioners signed an agreement preventing them and all future commissioners, under most circumstances, from opposing the project.
In effect, not only are the Queen Anne's officials gagged, but so are the people they represent. Mr. Franchot wondered why any group of officials would sign such an agreement. That's a good question.
After hearing testimony from residents and developers, the state officials decided to put off a decision and gather more information about the development's environmental impact.
Of course, Mr. O'Malley, Mr. Franchot and Mrs. Kopp shouldn't be confused about how most Queen Anne's residents feel about Four Seasons, which would swallow about 350 acres of Critical Area. The commissioners who approved the project were stripped of their jobs in the subsequent election. Most local residents feel the development is too large and too much of a threat to water quality.
Four Seasons and its lawyers should lift the gag order on the commissioners. How can the Board of Public Works be expected to make an intelligent decision without input from the body directly responsible for the jurisdiction's growth?
Published May 11, 2007, The
Capital, Annapolis, Md.
From The Sunpaper, May 10, 2007 regarding Four Seasons wetlands permit.
State dives into dispute
Concern about the environmental impact of a proposed 1,300-home development along Kent Island's waterfront - and local officials' inability to talk about it - prompted the Board of Public Works yesterday to get in the middle of a long-simmering dispute over building in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
The three-member state board heard hours of testimony from the developer and from Queen Anne's County residents who worry about the effect of the project on water quality in the Chesapeake Bay, eventually deciding to delay approval of a routine wetlands license to gather more information.
But they won't be able to get any feedback from the Queen Anne's County commissioners. As a result of a settlement county leaders agreed to before most of the current commissioners took office, the elected officials there have been advised that they can't publicly criticize the project. None of them came to Annapolis yesterday to testify before the board, which is made up of Gov. Martin O'Malley, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp.
"My interpretation is it's essentially a gag order against discussing anything potentially negative with it," said County Commission President Eric S. Wargotz, a Republican who was first elected last year. "So if there are aspects of the project we like, I guess we're able to talk about it. If there are aspects of the project we don't like, we're not able to discuss it with other officials in government."
O'Malley said he was troubled enough by the project that he needed to delay a vote until the board's May 23 meeting so he could get more information.
Kopp said she would request advice from the attorney general about what authority the board has in the matter. Franchot was the most outspoken, saying he questions the project because of the environmental implications and the unusual settlement agreement between the developer and the county that has led to its approval.
"I think there's been a little too much legal intimidation of the local officials," he said.
Attorneys for the developer denied that any such intimidation had taken place and said they had not imposed any sort of gag order.
Most of the development, which is billed as an "active adult community" aimed at baby boomers, would be built within so-called critical areas where development is generally restricted. But it also falls within the Queen Anne's County Smart Growth and Priority Funding areas.
The developer, K. Hovanian Cos., contends that the project will reduce the amount of pollution flowing into the bay through superior storm-water management. The site is located across the Bay Bridge from Annapolis.
"There are some people in Queen Anne's County who do not like the idea of any development on this property, and they are certainly entitled to their opinions," said Nancy L. Slepicka, an attorney for the developers. "But the rule of law ... has determined this is an appropriate place for development."
Phase I passed
But Board of Public Works members extensively questioned the developers and local opponents about the project's environmental impact and the legal twists in the seven-year-long dispute over the development.
Doldon Moore, the board's wetlands administrator, told members that the project has met the state's guidelines for the wetlands license. That includes a requirement for storm-water management to reduce by at least 10 percent the amount of nutrient pollution that would flow into the bay if the land were kept in its current agricultural use.
But several Queen Anne's residents who testified questioned that conclusion, saying a project that would add 4 million square feet of impervious surfaces on land that abuts three Chesapeake Bay tributaries cannot be good for the environment.
"This is not smart growth," said Wynn Krosac, president of the Kent Island Defense League, a civic group. "There are no existing sewer lines, no existing water lines, no roads, no electric lines, and 80 percent of the project is in the Chesapeake Bay Critical Areas."
Residents sued to stop the project and won a preliminary victory in Circuit Court only to see it struck down by the state Court of Special Appeals. They are now seeking review by the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court.
Attorneys for the developer said it's unclear how big a setback a refusal by the Board of Public Works would be, in part because such an action would be extremely rare. The board typically votes on wetlands licenses without discussion.
"This is a very routine permit that any development that would be located on a property like this would get," Slepicka said. "It's impossible to say exactly what would happen if this were not approved. It is natural to assume if you've gone through all the processes, the project would be approved."
State Environment Secretary Shari T. Wilson said she questioned the impact of the plan but also said there may be limits to what the state board can do about it.
"If you take a sort of big-picture, 30,000-foot view and look at a major development in this particular area, looking at the bay restoration goals in general, then this is not a place where you would have a project like this going," Wilson told members of the board. "On the other hand, this project meets our state laws. If we want to do a better job of looking at developments along our shorelines, we need to take another look at the processes we have in place."
According to the developer's timeline of events, the county and K. Hovanian Cos. entered into a "developer rights and responsibilities agreement" in 2002. That essentially meant that the developer agreed to make public improvements for the benefit of the county in exchange for an agreement that the project be allowed to go forward under the building rules that were in place at the time, said John Zink, an attorney for the developer,
Zink said the developer later sued the county for breach of that agreement and prevailed in court. Zink said that as part of a resulting settlement, commissioners agreed in 2003 to refrain from publicly opposing the developer's applications for approvals from the Maryland Department of the Environment and other agencies.
At one point, Zink testified yesterday that the developer is "not responsible for a gag order on any commissioners."
But later, he said: "We heard that there was an effort by commissioners to talk to members of this board in opposition to this permit. I was concerned about that in the context of this agreement. It appears to me that the spirit of this agreement was in jeopardy."
County Attorney Patrick E. Thompson confirmed that he has spoken with the commissioners about their responsibilities under the agreement but said he could not discuss his advice to them without violating attorney-client privilege.
No one's talking
In a telephone interview yesterday, Wargotz, the commission president, said he didn't think he could legally answer questions about his opinion on the project.
"It is very frustrating," Wargotz said. "I recognize where this project is in our system and that really it's in the hands of the courts and the Board of Public Works at this point, not in the hands of the county. ... That said, it certainly would be great to be able to publicly state how we feel about the pluses and minuses of the project, but upon attorney's advice, we've been told it's best not to do that."
BPW delays wetlands vote
ANNAPOLIS - The Board of Public Works turned a wetlands license request into a full scale hearing Wednesday when community members raised environmental concerns about a proposed residential community for older adults on Kent Island.
The board, consisting of Gov. Martin O'Malley, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp, ended up delaying a vote on the license after opponents to the 560-acre project, proposed by New Jersey-based homebuilder K. Hovnanian, argued it would be detrimental to the three Chesapeake Bay tributaries that border it.
"The project's got serious problems. Overdevelopment is a major threat to the bay," Franchot said after more than two hours of testimony.
The Four Seasons at Kent Island, in the planning stages since 1999, proposes 1,350 single family and condominium units for people ages 55 and older. The project site borders the Chester River and the Cox and Macum creeks.
Despite a recommendation by the Maryland Department of the Environment to approve the license, which encompasses part of the site's storm water management plan, more than half a dozen community activists testified before the board that the site lies mostly in a critical area, or within 1,000 feet of tidal waters, and would put even greater pressure on the bay from an area already stressed by development.
"Kent Island is a low-lying, fragile island in the Chesapeake Bay. It is not a suitable place for intensive development," said Richard Altman, executive director of the Queen Anne's Conservation Association.
But on the developer's side is the law, because although much of the project is in a critical area, it is also in the Queen Anne's County priority funding area, or the area designated for growth under the state's smart growth rules.
Secretary of the Environment Shari Wilson told board members that while state planning officials can comment on a county's priority funding area establishment, they do not have the authority to change it.
"The bigger question is whether we should have priority funding areas in environmentally sensitive areas. On the Eastern Shore, it's hard to avoid that," Wilson said. Noting the wetlands license awaiting approval meets all legal requirements, she said, "If we're looking at the bay restoration goals as a whole, this would not be the place . where you would preferably have development going."
Attorneys for the developer, however, argued that the project would be the equivalent of infill, since the site is surrounded on several sides by other residential communities.
Nancy L. Slepicka, one of three attorneys that represented K. Hovnanian at the meeting, told the board that county officials have voted, in one way or another, 10 different times in favor of the project since its inception.
"There are some people in Queen Anne's County who do not like the idea of any development on this property, and certainly they're entitled to their opinion," Slepicka said. "The rule of law . has indicated that this particular property is appropriate for development."
Since K. Hovnanian first proposed the development it has been embroiled in controversy in the local community, becoming a major issue in several local election cycles. It has also been the subject of litigation. Opponents to the project last year sought and won an injunction to the project in circuit court, but it was reversed in March by the Court of Special Appeals.
Opponents have also filed an appeal of the project plan approval, which is pending before the county's Board of Zoning Appeals.
In 2003, county commissioners filed a lawsuit challenging the validity of an agreement, known as a development rights and responsibility agreement, reached between Hovnanian and the previous commissioners. The court found in favor of the developer, and the two parties reached a settlement agreement.
John Zink, one of the developer's attorneys, told board members Wednesday that the settlement precluded current county commissioners from opposing any permit requests made by the developer, including the one being considered.
None of the county commissioners attended the meeting.
State questions development
in critical area on Kent Island Decision on wetlands permit for 350 acres
postponed until May 23
A huge development on Kent Island that will gobble up about 350 acres of the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area has raised the eyebrows of some of Maryland's highest-ranked officials.
The Board of Public Works - comprised of Gov. Martin O'Malley, Treasurer Nancy Kopp and Comptroller Peter Franchot - voted yesterday to postpone deciding on a wetlands permit for the 1,350-unit Four Seasons development until a meeting on May 23.
During several hours of debate, the board asked tough questions about the effect the development will have on the Kent Island community and whether a prior settlement deal has wrongfully silenced county commissioners from voicing opposition.
"This project has some major
problems," Mr. Franchot said after the meeting.
Officials representing Four
Seasons were not sure what affect a permit denial would have on starting
Critical areas are defined as land within 1,000 feet of shoreline, and the project borders three bodies of water; the Chester River, Cox Creek and Macum Creek. Almost 5 miles of buffers will be used to protect the water and 40 percent of the site will remain as open and green space, according to the developer.
About $114 million in new tax revenue would be created over 20 years from the active adult community, which is open to residents ages 55 and over. The county would receive $3.8 million in annual property tax revenue.
Although the first phase of the project has received final approval from Queen Anne's County government, it is currently being appealed to the county and the case still is in front of the Maryland Court of Appeals.
During yesterday's meeting, the developer was seeking a permit to construct a pile-supported bridge, create a stormwater-management system with 18 discharges into tidal waters, drill a water and sewer line, and build a community pier.
Four Seasons is within a county growth area and has met all of the environmental and development regulations put in front of it, said Nancy Slepicka, an attorney for the developer.
Queen Anne's County has approved its plans on 10 different occasions, she said, and the site is surrounded by homes.
"Basically, (it is) an infill property," Ms. Slepicka said. "The rule of law . has indicated this particular property is appropriate for development."
Citizen advocates at the meeting decried the overwhelming environmental and traffic impact so many homes would have on Kent Island - from the runoff created by so much impervious surface to clogged roads during any potential severe-weather evacuations.
Maryland Critical Area law only requires developments to show a 10 percent reduction in polluted runoff from current usage, but residents doubted more than 1,300 new homes could reach that threshold.
Four Seasons would create about 70 football fields of impervious surface and represent the largest loss of critical area space in Maryland history, said Jay Falstad, a representative of the Chester River Association, an organization with more than 1,000 members.
Large developments cannot reduce pollution and run contrary to the state's goal of cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, he said.
"It is just a disaster," he said. "Every time we make an advance (on cleaning the Bay) some cockamamie project like this comes along and keeps us back."
Following litigation in 2003, the developer and the county reached a settlement agreement stipulating current or future county councils could only oppose the project under violations of development regulations or harm to the general welfare, said John Zink, an attorney for K. Hovnanian.
"Opposing the permit would be a violation of the settlement agreement," he said.
The explanation did not sit well with Mr. Franchot.
"Don't you consider it a little outrageous? Each of them said 'we are scared of being sued,' " he said. "I am kind of mystified whether this board could sign an agreement (like that). I just wonder if you think it's a healthy situation for transparent consideration."
Following the meeting, the comptroller identified that as one of his crucial concerns with the project. Mrs. Kopp agreed the situation is bizarre.
"I had never heard of a such a thing in representative government," she said.
Still, the developer appears to be following the letter of the law for the project, Mrs. Kopp said, and the state has to identify how much they can consider the larger environment and infrastructure issues.
"I've got a number of questions I've had coming in and they've been increased," she said. "It's not clear they looked at broader regional issues."
Mr. O'Malley was not available for questions following the meeting.
Published May 10, 2007, The
Capital, Annapolis, Md.
Board should hear officials' side, he says
By Andrew A. Green
Sun reporter, Baltimore Sun, Originally published May 11, 2007
Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot has a message for the developers of a controversial waterfront development in Queen Anne's County: Let the county commissioners speak.
Troubled by a gag order imposed on the commissioners, Franchot requested yesterday that the developers of a Four Seasons community on Kent Island suspend part of their settlement agreement with the county and allow the officials to testify at the next Board of Public Works meeting.
The Four Seasons project, a long-fought development slated for the eastern shoreline of Kent Island, has hit a snag at the board where Franchot and other members have expressed reservations about the environmental impact of building 1,300 homes in land designated as a Chesapeake Bay "critical area."
The board delayed a vote Wednesday on a routine wetlands license so its members - Franchot, Gov. Martin O'Malley and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp - could study the impact of the development.
County commissioners said in interviews this week that they would like to testify but have been told that if they do, the county could be sued under the terms of a 2003 settlement with the developer.
"It is always disturbing to me to read about how somewhere in the world, the right to free speech and the right to express oneself are being hampered in some way," Franchot wrote to Nancy L. Slepicka, an attorney for the developer, K. Hovnanian Companies.
Slepicka said yesterday that she has not been able to discuss the request with her client but will do so and respond as soon as possible.
The 2003 settlement agreement was the result of the developer's victory in a lawsuit against the county. It was signed by three of the county's five commissioners. All three were defeated in the next election.
Commissioner Gene M. Ransom III, who refused to sign the settlement, said he would love to testify before the Board of Public Works but that he has been advised by the county's attorney not to speak.
"They have threatened litigation if we take any action publicly," Ransom said. "That's why I'm being very cautious about what I say."
Four Seasons revisited
– with a vengeance!
I had to read it twice to believe what I was reading. Government officials were listening carefully and respectfully to citizens concerns. They were taking threats to the Bay’s environment seriously. And for the first time since Thomas Paine I could use the term “common sense” and government in the same sentence.
I’m talking about news articles on last Wednesday’s Maryland Board of Public Works meeting to review K. Hovnanian’s request for a wetlands permit for the Four Seasons 1,350-unit development on Kent Island. Board members (Gov. Martin O’Malley, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp) voted to defer a decision until May 23 citing serious concerns about the location of the project, and the legality of the “gag order” on current county commissioners. Following are a couple excerpts from newspaper accounts, but if you haven’t already, I urge you to read the full stories that can be found at http://savekentisland.org/news-2007-Four-Seasons.html.
“How do you ever protect the Chesapeake Bay if you’re going to allow this kind of development in the critical area? It’s hard to believe local officials approved this development,” said Comptroller Peter Franchot. “This kind of development is just killing the Bay.”
And in Sunday’s Baltimore
”Now, as a third batch of commissioners watches the developer move through the final steps required before the retirement resort arises from farmland, the local officials feel compelled to hold their tongues.
”This is outrageous, undemocratic and probably unconstitutional. Public officials, none of whom signed the 2003 settlement, can't be silenced in their duty to represent the interests of their constituents. Not in this country.”
To give this issue historic perspective, here are excerpts from a Two Cents Worth column I wrote in March 2001.
”I have this nagging feeling that we are being talked down to by people who don’t even try to hide the fact that they think we’re little more than a bunch of dim-witted rubes.
”A case in point
is this quote from Four Season’s propaganda starting with Hovnanian’s assertion
that ‘…we’ve worked closely with local residents, elected officials and
adjoining communities.’ I don’t know how closely Hovnanian has worked
with elected officials (though I’d sure like to know), but working closely
with local residents? Get real!
I never dreamed that more than six years later this issue would still be alive, and not only alive, but offering new hope for averting forever this catastrophic threat to the Island’s quality of life and it’s irreplaceable, natural resources.
And perhaps just as
important - restoring our faith in the democratic process.
KIDL web guy urges you to read more of Bill's columns from 2000 regarding Four Seasons.
PUBLIC HEARING REGARDING FOUR SEASONS KENT ISLAND
Wednesday May 23, 2007
The posted hearing is 6:15 Wed at the P & Z building on Courseval Dr. in Centreville. It is to consider a Joe Stevens' Motion to Dismiss the Appeal of Final Site Plan and Subdivision Approval which was filed in Jan 2006 but stayed by Judge Sauses Feb. 2006 injunction (which I guess has now been thrown back to the County).
KIDL Web Guy Says:
Write to our Commissioners. email@example.com
Read and Search For Archived News
Read Four Seasons 2007 Letters